"Where It Started" - A Whitetail Hunting Story
As a kid, it was the weekend I thought about for months. It was the couple days out of the year I got to spend doing what I love with the people I love. A week before that first weekend of December, I would lay out all of my clothing and gear. My parents definitely got annoyed that I crowded up the dining room table with hunting gear but I couldn’t help myself. From a 5-year-old that could barely see over the dash of a pickup to the man I am today, I will forever cherish those hunting memories and the ones that are to come.
The Early Days
My earliest memories of deer hunting were when I would hop in grandpa’s old pickup truck with him and go out to greet the hunting group. It’s been said that others remembered seeing grandpa pull back into the field with me standing on the seat barely being able to see over the dash of his F150. Only being 5 or 6 years old at the time, Dad was not quite ready for me to walk alongside him yet. That did not stop my excitement to see what kind of luck the group had so far by looking into the back of everyone's trucks.
Before I get too far into this, my family and I grew up and still live in the great state of Iowa. My dad and his buddies had hunted together and performed deer drives for as long as he could remember. To this day, our group is roughly 15 people, give or take a couple, depending on the year. In Iowa, there are two primary gun seasons. Those consist of the first and second shotgun season. First season is the first weekend of December and generally runs through the following Wednesday. Second shotgun picks up the very next weekend and runs all the way through the following weekend. Since the first season is so short and my parents wouldn’t let me skip school to hunt, I only had two full days to enjoy the fun.
A few years later, when I was maybe around 10-years-old, I got to walk along the side of my dad and my older brother during the season. Getting to hear that first gun bang of the opening morning got the heart pumping and still does to this day. The sound of sticks breaking and deer crashing through the crunchy, frost-covered ground just added to the excitement. In the early days it seemed as if the deer came running through the timbers like herds of cattle being chased. There are still certain places that produce those big types of numbers but I think over time with the growing interest in hunting some of those numbers have gone down. At least in our hunting areas it seems like they have.
Fast forward a few years to the age of 12, I was finally old enough to carry my own gun. After going to Walmart with dad and picking out a new shiny gun in the cabinet I was happier than a kid on Christmas. After getting some practice in the weeks leading up to season I could not wait for the opener. Being young and inexperienced I would be walking alongside or sometimes 10-15 yards beside my dad or brother. This was for safety reasons and just having another person there to remind me and encourage smart shooting decisions. As a youngster, it can be confusing when you don’t know the lay of the land and how everyone is placed on a piece of land. To this day it sometimes is even confusing when not everyone is on the same page. In those cases, many times I will not even shoot just because there is no deer worth a human life.
I don’t think I was able to harvest a deer for a few years, I cannot remember the year I exactly did. Maybe that’s sad sounding to some people, but to me at an early age, there was much more to deer season than just killing a deer. I’ll run you through some of the things that I can think of and experienced over my 18 or so years of going along with the group. When I think of shotgun season I think of the warm biscuits and gravy, the laughs and catching up with everybody, the cold Busch Lights we share in the evenings, the folks from New Jersey that join us each year, looking at pictures from years past, planning how to hunt different pieces of land, hearing that first gun crack on opening morning, cooking and processing meat as a group - the list goes on and on. If you have ever hunted with a group year after year I’m sure you can relate.
Hooked For Life
Now, to this day I am 26 years old. When I was about 19 I had decided to purchase a bow because of some influence from my high school science teacher. I can’t remember the exact story but I just remember not being satisfied with only being able to hunt those couple of days out of the year during shotgun season. My initial thought about bowhunting wasn’t too wild. My first impression was: it sounds boring, it doesn’t sound as cool as gun hunting, and anything else you can imagine an 18 year old would think. But at the end of the day, in my eyes, it was another way to get into the woods to chase whitetails and I thought “why not give it a shot”. It wasn’t long after that I picked up my first bow and emptied my wallet to get all the necessary accessories that I needed to get started.
I was a little late to the game that year, I didn’t purchase my bow until the middle of November and I knew nothing! I made it out a couple times and had some close encounters and that’s when I knew there was something special about this bowhunting everyone talks about. The following year I was ready to go. I had gotten a trail camera for Christmas and I could not wait to get that put out. Sure enough I was getting pictures of deer like crazy. There was one special nine point buck that really stood out to me. So I got a tree stand hung right nearby where I had my trail camera. I had sat there a few times during the month of October, I saw some deer but had not encountered the buck I had hoped.
On a cool November 9th, it was 8 a.m, and my alarm had not gone off. I was late to the stand. Clueless about bowhunting and the whitetail rut, I in my mind thought I was out of luck for the morning. For some reason I hopped right up and thought “let’s go give it a try anyways”. I get to the creek crossing to get to my stand and realize I did not wear my rubber boots. How in the world am I going to cross the creek? Long story short I walked across the creek with water up to my knees and my caterpillar work boots were full of water. I then said to myself “If I kill a deer, this is going to make one heck of a story”. I hurried up along the field edge and then climbed up into my stand. It wasn’t but maybe 20 minutes after that I saw a buck chasing a doe around. I pulled up my binoculars and it was that nine pointer I had gotten pictures of all summer long. I could not believe my eyes. The two kept me entertained for a few minutes and then disappeared in the timber. I thought my chances were gone but back came the doe and she hopped the fence into this little clearing that my stand overlooked. She crossed the fence about 60 yards out in front of me. I thought no way am I getting a shot at this buck.
If you have ever hunted during the whitetail rut you are probably predicting this buck to follow that doe’s exact trail and I am not going to get a shot. But that is not what happened. This buck decided to walk along this fence row beside me before he hopped out into this little opening of a field. Once he checked over the area and decided to hop the fence, he was 18 yards in front of me. He put his head down for a second, and that’s when I drew my bow buck and let an arrow fly. Seconds after the shot I witnessed that buck running back into the timber and I could tell he was hit. So much was going through my head and I was so excited about what had just happened. I asked myself many times “did I even aim?” “I think I put all three pins on him.” “Oh well, he was close enough and it hadn’t mattered at that point I guess.”
It wasn’t long after that I had gotten down and found the blood trail. My dad arrived and we tracked him together. The buck only ran maybe 50 yards from where I arrowed him. What an experience for someone that went from hunting just a couple days out of the year, to arrowing a 150 class 9 point whitetail. At that point in time, I knew this was something that I was going to be addicted to and today I can definitely say that is true. Bowhunting not only gives me more time in the field during the season, but during the off-season as well. Ask anyone that is passionate about whitetail hunting and they will tell you the same. The amount of work that can be done during the other times of the year is endless. Whether it is practicing with your bow, prepping food plots, hanging stands, trimming shooting lanes, making mock scrapes, or running trail cameras. The opportunities are endless and it’s a growing passion for many whitetail obsessed people out there. I hope this article gives someone the itch to get out in the field and spend more time doing what they love.